January 14, 2016 In The News, News

Lawmaker Landlords: Members Make Millions From Property Owned

Photo: Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call

By: Will Tucker, OpenSecrets.org, January 14, 2016

How do you measure a year in the life of a lawmaker? How about…rent?

Lawmakers received, at a minimum, $27.1 million from rental, capital gains, interest and dividend income from their property in 2014.

Maybe unsurprisingly, the wealthiest members of Congress received the most. We’ve extensively documented how the richest members of Congress are wealthy, stay wealthy and are actually stratified by wealth among themselves. Atop the list sat the usual members, like Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), for years the richest member of Congress, for whom eight pieces of real estate generated at least $5.45 million in rent and capital gains income in 2014, as Issa’s partnerships with ownership over the property sold some real estate in 2014, producing a profit.

That gave Issa the highest estimated income per property of any member of Congress, according to data culled from personal financial disclosure reports by OpenSecrets.org. But immediately behind him, by that measure, was Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), who received rent payments from just two entities yet made a minimum of $1.1 million from them. One of those properties just happens to be a valuable chunk of real estate in New York City inhabited by the venerated Strand Book Store, which is co-owned by Wyden’s wife, Nancy Bass Wyden, and her father.

He’s not the only member with a tight landlord-tenant relationship. Rep. Vernon Buchanan (R-Fla.), the estimated eighth wealthiest member of Congress, received between $1 million and $5 million from Jamatt Properties, a company he controls. It owns the Sarasota, Fla., building that’s home to Buchanan’s auto sales company.

Similarly, Rep. Dennis Ross (R-Fla.), a founding member of the Florida law firm Ross, Vecchio, Carrier, Feldman & Johannessen, remains close to that partnership despite the fact that his name came off its sign after his election in 2011: He’s an owner of the building where the firm’s headquarters are located.

Ross was one of five lawmakers who were paid between $100,001 and $1 million in rent for just one property in 2014. Rep. Kenny Marchant (R-Texas) was another, according to his financial disclosure statement; his largest asset was his share of a company which, according to Roll Call, is a 3,500-acre cattle farm in Texas.

At the other end of the spectrum were Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) and Sen.Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), two wealthy lawmakers who receive rent payments on a bundle of properties — more than 100 apiece. McCaskill was paid at minimum $3.3 million in rent generated from 290 assets and Blumenthal received at least $1.95 million from 109 properties.

Daniel Stevens, a spokesman for the Washington-based ethics watchdog group Campaign for Accountability, said it’s important for the reports to show lawmakers’ rental income because it helps inform voters about from whom their representatives receive income. But he noted flaws in the reports, like the wide ranges — $100,001 to $1 million, for instance — lawmakers are allowed to select instead of disclosing actual values.

“The huge ranges make it hard to figure out whether the people paying the rent are paying a fair amount,” he said